exmormon, LDS, mormonism

Perfectly Imperfect…

I have been dreading writing this weeks blog.  Last week was a rough week and I wasn’t a very good Christian, and in all reality, part of me didn’t care. I was rude to people, said and did things I shouldn’t have, and wasn’t the follower of Christ I usually strive to be on a daily basis.  THANK GOD FOR GRACE!grace-blue

I was reminded this week that I am a sinner.  No matter how good of a person I am, I still sin. I know very well I am far from perfect, but most of the time I like to think I’m a pretty good person and am picking up my cross and following Christ.  I make mistakes here and there, but overall I’m a good person. And yet I still have that sin nature inside of me.  I’ve come a long way in my Christian walk and I know I still have a long way to go.  But I am so grateful for God’s grace and that I don’t have to earn it, because I would fail miserably!!  Without the knowledge and gift of grace I would still be living in a depressed, lonely, miserable world.

I’m also very grateful that I have a direct line to God and I don’t have to ask anyone but Him to forgive my sin.  Growing up in Mormonism, when you sin, you are supposed to confess to your bishop.  Most things don’t really matter it’s just the “big sins”.  When you turn 12 and enter into the young men and women groups you have an interview with the bishop every year around your birthday.  I remember this was always nerve racking.  I’ve discussed many times how I struggled with not feeling good enough.  I think this added to it a lot!  Imagine, sitting in an office as a 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 year old girl, knowing that you had your own inner secrets such as cutting, swearing, and depression, that you are expected to confess to some man.  In the office it was just the bishop and I.   I would sit in front of this man whom my parents knew well, and he would ask me all sorts of questions. The questions were centered around if I was keeping my baptismal covenants (that,at 8 years old, I don’t really remember making).  I would be asked about friends, drugs, alcohol, sex, basically if I was keeping my self worthy of a temple marriage.  The LDS.org website has an article that listed the following in regards to baptismal covenants: “Strive always to remember and keep the Lord’s commandments. Keep your thoughts, language, and actions pure. When you seek entertainment such as movies, television, the Internet, music, books, magazines, and newspapers, be careful to watch, listen to, and read only those things that are uplifting. Dress modestly. Choose friends who encourage you to reach your eternal goals. Stay away from immorality, pornography, gambling, tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs. Keep yourself worthy to enter the temple.”  I was a teenage girl!! I didn’t strive to always keep the Lord’s commandments.  I just stated at the beginning of this blog, I don’t always do this as an adult!  Imagine the guilt, shame, and frustration, that consumed me as a teenage girl already feeling inadequate, already feeling like I wasn’t enough, I could never measure up, and the only way to receive forgiveness was to confess to this man I was sitting in front of, the things I had done wrong, and hope that he would grant that forgiveness to me.

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When Brian and I were dating we became very “passionate” several times. We both knew we were doing things we shouldn’t and I believed I wanted to “be worthy” to go to the temple some day. The summer before my senior year of high school Brian moved to another state to live with family and go to college.  I was, of course, heartbroken he was so far away.  He came home to visit in September and signed up to take the missionary discussions from the LDS missionaries.  He took the missionary discussions while he was away at college and I mustered up the courage to go to my bishop and confess about our “passionate” rendezvous.  The bishop told me I need to break up with Brian and not see him any more.  I didn’t tell the bishop at the time that Brian was away at college.  I just told him OK.  I tried to be honest, tried to confess, and again I lied.  Brian was the love of my life, the bishop didn’t even take any of that into consideration.  Again shame, guilt, depression.  Hopelessness.

You all know that so far, Brian and I are living happily ever after  (I don’t listen to authority figures very well).

As a Christian, I am no longer bound by the chains of a religion that forces me to seek forgiveness for my sin from man.  My sin is forgiven.  Debt 100% paid. I take my transgressions and wrong doings directly to Christ.  The Message Bible 1 John 8-10 says “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves.  A claim like that is errant nonsense.  On the other hand, if we admit our sins- make a clean breast of them- He won’t let us down, He’ll be true to Himself.  He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.”  If we claim that we never sinned, we out and out contradict God- make a liar out of Him.  A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God. Verse 9 is the key, “On the other hand, if we admit our sins- make a clean breast of them- He won’t let us down, He’ll be true to Himself.  He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing”.   We need to confess our sins to God, not man, not a bishop.

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Although my behavior this week most likely wouldn’t have called for me to meet with my bishop and confess anything, I wouldn’t have passed the interview that I would have  been required to have with my bishop as a teenager.  My language and how I treated others wasn’t very Christlike, but I confessed my sins to God.  I am forgiven in Christ Jesus. I am always grateful for the gift of grace and today and am also grateful for mercy.

So often I fall short.  I am a perfect sinner.  I fall short every day and yet my loving God is quick to forgive me.  I am a perfectly imperfect human, made perfect by a loving and faithful God.  perfectly-imperfect-2-stg

I am glad last week is over and I get to start over this week.  But the thing that has been on my mind most this week is how grateful I am that I don’t have to sit in front of someone who I go to church with every week and confess my shortcomings to them and ask them to give me the forgiveness that God already promised me in His Word.  I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about the shame and fear that would rise up in me when I would walk into the bishops office.

I see my pastor several times a week.  There is never fear of judgement, shame, or worry.  I know he is a human, just as I am.  I know he makes mistakes at times.  I know he is also covered by grace.

The biggest struggle this week is that I was focused more on myself and was trying to take control of situations that I have no control over.  When I take my eyes off of God I very quickly fall back my sinful self and do things that I later regret.

I’m just small town girl… living in a sinful world.  Praying for a better week.

 

exmormon, LDS, mormonism

Laughing Out Loud

So today we went on an adventure to find a Christmas tree.  We piled my 2 daughters, who are still at home, and the dog in our trusty old suburban and traveled about an hour into the mountains.  We got to the point where the roads were no longer maintained and almost got stuck.  At one point, the girls, a kind stranger, and I were pushing the suburban to keep it from sliding into the gutter and getting stuck in the snow.  It was fun and although it was stressful for my loving, amazing, husband, who entertains my crazy ideas, the girls and I laughed and had a fun time.  I’m still smiling from the experience.

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In the past, an experience like this would have sent me into a  complete melt down.  I would have been in tears blaming myself and feeling like a failure for having such a stupid idea to go into the mountains to get a Christmas tree. Or, I would have blamed Brian and been frustrated and angry with him and the rest of our day would have been ruined.  We ended up buying a Christmas tree at a local store and won’t put it up until tomorrow or Tuesday but that’s ok. It was still a fun adventure!

I love to laugh!  I spent so much of my life not even knowing how to smile, let alone laugh.  E.E. Cummings once said, “The most wasted of days is one without laughter”.  I completely agree with him.  I’m not sure why I struggled so hard to be happy.  There were times that I experienced happiness, moments that I can look back on, and I was happy in that moment.

I remember spending time with my cousins and the fun games we played.  I have 2 girl cousins that are close to my age and we spent a lot of time together.  In the summer when we were together we lived in my grandparents camp trailer.  It was our house, we liked to pretend we were in college. Those are some of my most cherished memories.  I remember birthdays and holidays, family get-togethers and celebrations, and yet, no matter the memory, the happiness was only for the moment.

As I got into jr. high and high school, the happy times faded even more.  I struggled to even feel happiness.  My smiles were fake, and laughter was rare if it ever happened.  I felt like I was living in a fog.  There were so many things that happened that I didn’t understand.  I felt confused about my world.  I felt like I was just floating along.

It’s easy to look back now and understand that I was struggling from depression.  I had a deep emptiness that I didn’t know how to fill.  I felt nothing.  I can’t even find words to describe it.  I just felt like a black hole, void, empty, nothingness.

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I tried many things to fill that void over the years. I tried beer for the first time when I was in jr. high.  It was nasty.  I had no desire to try it again. Not long after that, I tried my first wine cooler, and that I loved!  I liked it a lot.  The fortunate thing about living in a Mormon community and having a dad who knew the kids in the community, they didn’t let me go too many places that might get me in trouble.  If they had been more lenient with me I may have ended up in a lot more trouble than I did.  When I was in jr. high, my group of friends got in trouble for drinking on the bus.  I wasn’t on the bus because I had older siblings who could drive.  I think in a lot of ways, God was looking out for me.

I was never exposed to drugs, although I probably could have gotten them if I had really wanted them.  I was scared of using drugs because I already felt dumb and I didn’t want to be any dumber.  I did take some of my mom’s blood pressure medicine.  It made me really sick.  I’m not sure what my motive was other than I knew it wasn’t something I was supposed to do.

I really think I tried to find ways to rebel or do things that would go against my core values and beliefs.  I did this because I knew I would never be enough.  I remember thinking about every little thing I did wrong and how I could never do enough to make up for the sins I had already committed, so what was the point.

By the time I got into high school I had a new resolve to at least try and do better.  I had better friends but I still struggled with the void in my heart.  I continued to try and fill that void with everything other than the one thing that was meant to fill it.  I believed that if I found a boyfriend I would feel better about myself.  I had a few.  And then I met Brian, and although he brought me more happiness, he didn’t fill the void.  I believed if I focused more on the Mormon teachings and tried harder to be a good person that would help. Again I fell short.  I thought if Brian became Mormon and we got married then I would be happy and the emptiness would be gone.  Brian got baptized and that summer we got married and, although I was happy, it was only a temporary fix.

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Everything I did, it was only temporary, having a baby, moving closer to family, moving into a house.  It didn’t matter. In the moments when things did seem to be going right I would find a way to sabotage the happiness because I didn’t know how to handle happiness. I don’t think I ever did this intentionally, but I would do this because I was afraid of having anything good because I knew it would only be temporary.  I was looking for the missing piece to the puzzle inside my heart in all the wrong places.  It wasn’t until the dark moment in my life when I was tired and ready to give up on life that I finally figured out where to look for the piece I was missing.

Once I gave my life to Christ, things were different.  The void was filled and I no longer struggled to find something to fit into that hole.  It was truly an amazing difference.  As I’ve stated in previous blogs, through all of this struggle I was cutting, binging and purging, and had constant suicidal ideation.  That all stopped when I gave my life to Christ.  I work in mental health and I understand mental illness.  I know there is a time and a purpose for medication and time and a purpose for counseling.  That wasn’t the path God set for me.  When I gave my life to Christ, it’s like I woke up.  The fog I lived in was lifted, I was no longer living in a black hole.  I began to see the world in a different way than I ever had before.  I began to understand things that seemed so confusing before.  And the best thing, I learned to smile, and with smiling came laughter. Not just a giggle or a small ha ha, genuine belly laughter, laugh out loud laughter.  I had not genuinely laughed or smiled in so long the muscles in my neck were sore.

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I don’t remember exactly when it was or what happened, but I remember I laughed out loud at something and Brian just looked at me, almost stunned.  I asked him what was wrong and he said something about me not ever laughing, he was a little unsure.  I think there may have been some uneasiness about me sabotaging the situation.

Even today, we talk about how far I have come.  I know my happiness and laughter is a direct result of accepting Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I am still amazed that I can see humor and laugh at things.  I have not only learned to be happy, but I have found joy.  One of my co-workers told me my laugh is contagious, he loves to hear me laugh.  For a girl who didn’t even to know how to laugh that is one of the greatest compliments.  I laugh on a daily basis and can’t imagine a life where I can’t laugh, at least laugh at myself. I think laughter is contagious, it can be a universal language, it can diffuse tension and bring people together.

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I think one of the hardest things in this world is letting go of control, especially to God, who you can’t see.  But one of the best most amazing things I did was quit trying to fill the hole in my heart by myself and let the God of the Universe who crated everything take control of my life, and it brought me happiness, laughter, and joy.

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I’m just a small town girl… living in a gleeful world.

Just for laughs!!

exmormon, LDS, mormonism

Family, Football, & Heaven

The holidays are always a difficult time for me.  I struggle with wanting to spend time with my family and knowing that being around my family only makes me irritable and depressed. Thanksgiving was just that, we time spent with my family and when I left I spent at least an hour after I got home having to de-stress.

Growing up Mormon, I was taught family is everything.  It is the end goal of life.  It is the  reason to live.  It is the point of salvation. Mormons teach, family’s can be together forever.  They believe that if you are good enough and do enough to make it to Heaven, and your family does the same, you can all be in Heaven together.

As a Christian this was one the of the hardest things for me to reconcile.  It was hard for me to let go of.  I love my family and although we don’t get along all of the time, and some of them drive me absolutely crazy, they are my family.  But the reason I have a difficult time is because of the man God put in my life.  How could God put someone like Brian in my life and not let me be with him in the next life.  I want to be married to him forever!  I know for some that may be a crazy thought but Brian and I have been married for over 22 years.  We have been a couple for over 24 and best friends for over 25.  That’s more than half our lives!!  I really don’t know what I would do without him.  He is my rock.  I also want to know I will be able to be with my kids forever.  So this promise the Mormon’s make, of forever families, is hard to let go of.

We spent Thanksgiving day with my family.  One of the first things I did was walk into the living room.  I had to make sure the picture frame was still empty, because like I’ve said before, this is the real picture of my family.  As we spent the day eating and playing games there was, as always, a heaviness in my heart. I want my family to know Christ like I do.  I want them to experience the freedom that comes with the knowledge and understanding of true grace.  As I sat there and watched, I could see the sadness, the depression in my sisters and sister-in-law’s eyes.  It’s exhausting to try and be enough.  It’s hard to try and fit into the cookie cutter mold of what you are supposed to be when you are created for so much more!  I wouldn’t say they aren’t happy, they have moments of happiness, but they are lacking joy and freedom.  They aren’t able to be who God has created them to be. It’s so hard when you know just one small change in their mindset would truly set them free.

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One of the hardest things I struggle with is the fun times we always had as a family growing up and the fun times my kids have when they get together with their cousins.  We have such fun family traditions and fun things we do together. One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is our family Turkey Bowl.  The whole family gets together and plays a game of flag football.  We have a family of athletes many of the kids have played sports in high school and all of my siblings played sports in high school.  So it is a fun event.  It’s also common in the summer time for my family to get a game of basketball going on the cement slab in the back yard, or a game of “ennie inne over head”, a game where you have 2 teams, one on each side of the house. One team throws a Nerf football over the house and if the other team catches it they run around to the other side and try to hit as many people on the other team with the football as they can. It’s a fun game we have played ever since I can remember.  We have played tennis together and an endless number of board games and card games. We are a competitive family, but always have a good time.  We know how to celebrate a win but have also learned how to lose.

We also know how to eat, and no one ever goes hungry when we are together.  We come from a family of good cooks, there is always something cooking or something that just came out of the oven.  Never say you are hungry around my family because they will offer to make you something to eat, even when the kitchen counter is full of food. It’s been fun to watch my kids grow up with many of the same traditions.  I love that they get to spend time with their cousins and have good friendships with them.

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This is what makes the family struggle, so hard.  There is a part of me that thinks, at times, it would be easier to just go back to being a Mormon because maybe there wouldn’t be the tension that now exists in my family.  But then I look at my life and I know there is no way I could ever go back to the struggle of having to be, “good enough”.  Wondering and doubting myself.  Trying to fit into a cookie cutter that I was never created to fit into.

The hard part about the forever family in Mormonism, is that there is no way to determine if you’ve done enough.  And even if you manage to do enough, that’s only you.  How do you have a forever family if you all have to do enough?

When I first became a Christian one of the songs I fell in love with was Audio Adrenalin’s Big House.  I love it.  I describes what I think Heaven will be like.  It is what I imagine a forever family to be.  The chorus says:

“It’s a big big house
With lots and lots a room
A big big table
With lots and lots of food
A big big yard
Where we can play football
A big big house
It’s my Father’s house”

How can you not love that!  I think that sounds just like my family.  I love the thought of a good game of football and Jesus is the quarterback.  Or us sitting around a big table full of the most delicious food you can imagine sharing a meal with Jesus.  Being in Heaven and spending time doing the things we enjoy as a family, but all in worship! I don’t know if that’s what Heaven will really be like, but I think it would be amazing.

As I’ve grown in my Christian walk, I have realized one of the biggest differences between Mormonism and Christianity is, the focus.  Mormons focus so much on the effort of man and man made things they forget about God. The difference between Heaven in Mormonism verses Christianity is, in Mormonism you continue to learn and work and try to gain your way to the different levels of heaven, even after death.  In Christianity, Heaven is continuous worship of God.  You are in Heaven to worship God, there is no more.

I also know, as I have grown in my Christian walk, the only way to be with my family forever is through grace.  I will never be good enough on my own, neither will Brian, my kids, or my family.  So accepting God’s grace, though the sacrifice of Christ, and teaching my kids and family about grace, that is the only way to be with family forever.

I know I have no control over the future.  I have no control over whether or not my family ever accepts grace and truly comes to Christ.  But I trust my God.  I know he has a plan for my life and he has a plan for my kids and my family.  I know that if I keep my focus on God, he will direct me in everything I do, and that’s all I can do.  I know most days I’m not the greatest example to my family.  I avoid them because I have a hard time with the negativity and the stress when I am around them.  But I hope and pray, that someday they will see the difference Christ has made in my life and they will have a desire to at least explore what made that difference.

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I’m just a small town girl…. living in a world of grace.

exmormon, LDS, mormonism

Why do you check your box?

One of my favorite quotes states “The essences of a lie isn’t the words you choose but the intent behind it.” Unknown.  I feel like this can be applied to many things in life.  What is your intent behind the things you do?

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Growing up in my small town Mormon world, I was always asked, reminded, and told, to “make the right choices” and “what will people think”. Of course there were always different variations of those statements.  But my motivation and intention in life was to live according to LDS standards and because my dad was a prominent member of the community, I had to always be aware that people were watching and judging what I did.

I was very good at playing the role, putting on the mask, and saying the right things.  I would complain and whine about having to go to church on Sunday, for all 3 hours.  I would try to find excuses not to go to mutual or any of the other church activities they would have.  It wasn’t very often that I was able to get out of it.  And so, I would show up, I would put on the face, and go through the motions.  All the while, the intent behind my actions was because, I had to.

I feel like this is a common practice in the Mormon church.  They often talk about service and doing things for others.  They boast about the service they do.  Yet the service that is done, is often out of requirement to earn their position in Heaven, and not out of a desire to worship God.

When Brian and I had our first born and I was in the hospital, the Relief Society President showed up, unexpectedly.  We had lived in the ward for several months but we hadn’t been to church yet.  She decided showing up at the hospital was a good time to stop by and introduce herself to me.  I had no clue who she was. My labor was long and difficult and I wasn’t up for meeting new people.  I don’t believe she was there for me.  She was there to check the box off of her list,  “did her good deed for the day”,  “met her obligation as Relief Society President”.  Needless to say, I don’t remember her name, what she looked like, or even what we talked about.  I’m not sure if I even ever saw her again.  We lived in the same ward for about 2 years.  We were still living there when we had our 2nd child.  Did she come to meet with me out of true care and concern for me as a human being that she wanted to get to know, or out of obligation to her role in her church?  I believe it was completely out of obligation.

Sadly, this was a very common theme in my adult experience as  Mormon.  Wherever Brian and I lived, it was common for us to have a knock on the door and there would be our home or visiting teachers.  They would come in for their brief visit and then they were gone again until next month.  We were always welcoming and friendly.  Sometimes they would bring cookies or little gifts and I was always kind.  We would let them share their messages and never argued or contradicted their teachings.

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When we moved back to our home town, things were a little different.  By this time we had started attending a Christian Church. We weren’t outspoken about our Christian faith but we weren’t open to Mormonism at all, and weren’t willing to have that discussion.  We were what is considered an “inactive” Mormon.  We were still on the list, so the check mark still had to be made.  We still had to have visiting teachers and home teachers, but because we were going to a different church, the rules must have been a little different.  At this point our son was starting be involved in community sports because of this we were more involved in the community than we had been in other places that we lived.Every month at a game or practice the same guy would come up and talk to us.  Ask us about the family how things were going.  We would engage him in conversation for a few minutes and then he would go back to his side of the field and go back to his life.  It didn’t take long to figure out he was our home teacher and this was his way of being able to check the box off the list.  “Did you meet with the Johnson’s this month?”  check-mark

One of our neighbors, was a guy I went to high school with and I soon realized his wife was one of my visiting teachers.  Every month at the beginning of the month she would stop by for some reason or another.   She stopped by with a catalog of something she was selling.  She stopped by with cookies.  She would stop by just to say hi.  But it was never to get to know me.  It was never to see if I needed anything.  What was her intent? check-markTo check that off her to do list.

When this neighbor moved, every month I started getting a letter in the mail with no return address that had the visiting teaching message for the month in it.  And I guess that counted as the check mark too.  Because at least they were sending me the message.  This was more insulting to me than than anything else.  I would have preferred someone to say, “Hey, I’m your visiting teacher and I know you’re not Mormon anymore but can I stop by once a month and say hi to you so I can do my calling?”

Another great example is when I had my youngest daughter, I was very sick and she was born 2 months early.  I was in the hospital 40 minutes away from home.  At this point, Brian and I had not been attending the Mormon church for 3 years.  Due to the problems I was having, they kept me on the surgical floor for 3 days and I don’t remember much during that time.  They had finally moved me up to the maternity ward and I was starting to feel better and become more stable.  One day, I was sitting in the bed, in my hospital gown, I hadn’t been able to shower for several days, and I was pumping some breast milk. I had a double breast pump and in walk the whole bishopric from our ward.  I of course looked horrified.  We had never been to church.  I only knew them from my childhood.  I’m still not sure why they were there.  I don’t remember much about the conversation.  I was focused on making sure my blankets stayed up so I didn’t reveal myself to these men that I only knew from when I was a kid. It still mortifies me to think about.  Why did they drive 40 minutes without calling to see if it would be OK if they stopped in?  I don’t believe there was any intent to worship or connect with Brian and I out of true care and concern.  I believe it was to,check-markcheck the box.

Since becoming Christian and finding our home church, I have learned a lot about service and the intent behind what you do.  When we started attending Journey Church, I was just finishing my bachelors degree.  I started my Masters program shortly after, which was only a 1 year program.  When I was done I need to come up with $300.00 to take my licensure exam.  My church family organized a fund raiser to help me pay for my exam.  I was blown away.  They raised enough money for my exam and gas to drive to Utah where the testing center was.  I felt so unworthy of such a blessing.  What was their intent? To be of service and worship God by helping others.  There was no box to check off.

The other thing that changed in the aspect of worship as a Christian at our home church is, when people talked to us and interacted with us, it was authentic and genuine.  We have friends who reach out to us during the week and we also reach out to them.  We know their struggles and they know ours. We have people we pray with and read the Bible with and truly share our lives with.  This is the truest form of worship.  Not who we are on Sunday or at a church activity, but who we are in our daily lives and our willingness to accept and connect with people regardless of where they are at.

I have seen my church family come together and build a tree house, paint a house, bring meals to families, and to raise money for medical needs. We have come together for weddings and funerals, for Sunday service, and Bible study.  The intent of coming together at these times isn’t out of obligation to earn our salvation.  It isn’t to make sure we are trying hard enough or doing enough.  It is completely, 100%, because we have a desire to worship our God!

The most telling part, to me, of the intent behind the actions of the Mormon church, at least here in this small town, is… When the ward bishop came to us and told us we needed to remove our records or face disciplinary action. When I was in grad school, the ward bishop approached Brian and I about removing our records, honestly I was a little surprised.  I was unsure why he felt it necessary for that to happen.  I had thought about it, but never felt it was that big of a deal.  I didn’t care what they did with the paperwork they had on me.  Brian and I spoke with our pastor about it, and he advised us that removing our records would be the right thing to do.  Just a way of “playing nice”.  It would create less struggle and problems for us and our kids since we planned to continue living in the community. The bishop came to our house several times to ask us about this.  He had never spoke to us ever.  But for some reason it seemed like it was his personal mission to make sure we had our records removed on his watch as bishop.   The bishop told us, “You’ll still be part of the community, you’ll still be invited to do things with the ward”.

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We of course removed our records, not out of fear of disciplinary action, but because we felt it was the right thing to do.  Just a few weeks before his time as bishop was completed, he stopped by to verify when he would have our letter.  We turned it over just a week before he completed his calling.  When I asked Mormon friends why he would do this, the only answer I have gotten is that for some reason he feels some sort of obligation for our salvation. Since then, many people from the ward who would at least say hi to us won’t even acknowledge us.  And that bishop won’t even make eye contact.  The motivation and intent behind doing any thing in Mormonism is because they have to do it, not because they want to. It’s all about making sure they are trying hard enough and has nothing to do with God.

I’m just a small town girl… living in a checkbox world.check-mark

 

LDS, mormonism

An Empty Frame is Also Worth 1,000 Words…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGYjKR69M6U

I gave my blog a new look this week!  I’m pretty excited about the look because I feel like it’s more me.  You can now find me by googling justasmalltowngirldotdotdot.com.  I also made some changes, you no longer need to login or have an account on WordPress to leave a comment or like my blog.  I also made it so it can also be anonymous. You can leave a comment without leaving a name or email.  I’d love to hear from you.

This week I want to give a shout out to my Journey Family!!  I couldn’t do this without your love and support.  I also want to give a shout out to the friends I have in the community who support me despite our differences.  Your love and support mean more than you’ll ever know!

Since walking away from Mormonism, I have talked to many people, some from childhood and some I’ve met along my journey who have thanked me for speaking out, for having the courage to do what they didn’t.  I have also spoken to many who don’t really believe in Mormonism but it’s easier to stay and live a lie than to walk away and live with the shame and disappointment from family and friends. To most,happiness doesn’t matter.  I’ve had many people tell me, “You must’ve just had some bad experiences”.  And while that may be true, those bad experiences set me on a path to find truth, which lead me to true happiness and contentment I would have never found in the Mormon church.

Living in a small town where 99.8% of the kids in school are LDS, where 95% of the people you work with are LDS, where in every aspect of your world you are surrounded by Mormon people, and in order to feel like you are a part of the community, you conform. And on top of it all your family is Mormon.  You do what everyone else is doing because it is easier, and Mormon’s aren’t bad people, they have good morals, and do a lot of good things. I have heard this many times.  It is a more common theme than you would ever realize. It’s so easy to justify.

To me it is so sad that people who don’t believe in Mormonism choose to stay.  They are willing to sacrifice themselves to fit in, to not be judged.  I completely understand this.  When Brian and I walked away, we weren’t broadcasting our new found beliefs.  I often struggled.  I would look around the church we were attending at the time and see families.  I would see Mom’s with their grown daughters and sisters worshiping God together.  It was so sad to me because I felt this would never happen for me. But I knew that I was happier, life was better, and I was doing what God wanted me to do.  At some point I felt God told me I would have a family that would worship with me.  He has delivered on his promise and I enjoy worshiping with my family and knowing my children walk in truth.

 

When you grow up in a Mormon family and live in a Mormon community, it’s hard to know that there is anything else out there.  Growing up I thought there were basically 2 religions, Mormon because that was the world I lived in, and Catholic because that’s what I saw on TV.  I have a lot of frustration toward my parents at times because I had the amazing blessing of growing up within 1 mile of both sets of my grandparents.  I had one set of grandparents who were LDS and one set who weren’t.  We spent a lot of time at my Mormon grandparents home and with that side of the family.  I remember thinking that my other set of grandparents must not be very good people because, “they drink coffee.”  I struggle with this because it wasn’t until a few years after we left Mormonism that we ran into them at the grocery store one Sunday and we told them we had left the Mormon church.  My grandma told me they had been praying for all of us our whole lives and they were grateful that we had found the truth.  It wasn’t until then that I realized that they were Christian.  I spent all of my childhood not knowing my grandparents who lived less than a mile from my home, mostly because they had a different belief system.   Shortly after we became believers in the true Christ, my grandparents sold their home and began traveling the country.  My grandpa became one of my biggest supporters, biggest prayer warriors and I knew I could count on him to support me when it came to the struggles I had with my family.  My grandpa passed away in 2012, but during the time that he was alive I truly learned what a man of God was by his example.  It’s hard to think that I thought he might be a bad person because he drank coffee (I now love coffee).

But I think the biggest kicker is, Mormon’s believe in family.  It is one of their best promises.  They teach that families can be “together forever”.  This is one of the hardest things I struggled with.  Growing up I was taught that family is important.  I spent a lot of time with cousins, aunts & uncles, and my LDS grandparents.  We celebrated every event and occasion.  I am grateful for those memories and the traditions that came along with those experiences.  I have tried to carry on the importance of family with my own children.  When my kids were little it was important to me that they were able to spend time with their grandparents and family on both sides.  My side of the family continues the tradition of finding a reason to celebrate anything and everything. But the idea of a “forever family” is a facade.  In my parents home hangs a picture of the local temple and surrounding the temple are family pictures of all of my siblings.  There is an empty picture frame on the wall for my family. That is by my choice.  When my sister asked me for a family picture, she didn’t tell me what it was for.  When I saw what she wanted my picture for I told her I wasn’t comfortable with that because it was portraying a picture that wasn’t real.  So, the picture fame still sits on the wall, empty.  I feel like this is very representative of my relationship with my family and the LDS church.

empty-picture

Because Brain and I have walked away from the LDS church, and we have raised our children up as Christians, there is a disconnect with my family.  It took many years before I was comfortable to even talk about that I believed something different, and when they would ask me about it, I would get upset and defensive.  I believe that’s because I was still a new Christian and didn’t know how to express or defend my beliefs.  My kids have always enjoyed spending time with their cousins and have never felt “less than” around them and I appreciate that.  But it’s a struggle for me to spend time with my family.  We can’t have a conversation about God.  I see them struggle with things and my heart breaks because I know if they would just accept the gift of grace. as it is with no strings attached, it would be life changing.  And yet, I continue to watch them struggle and hurt.

I have lost a lot over the years because I walked away from the core belief system of my childhood.  But I have gained so much more.  Back when I was a new Christian and I struggled watching families worship together, God told me I would have a family that worships with me. I have seen that.  I have an amazing husband and 4 amazing kids who know and believe in God and know the true message of the Gospel of Christ.  They don’t live a life where they believe they have to do enough or be good enough for me or for God.  They understand they are already there.  The biggest thing I have gained is GRACE,  I have done so many things wrong in my life.  I continue to have days when I struggle, or am not the person God wants me to be.  But at the end of the day, when I talk with my Creator, with God, My Father, I know that I am already forgiven.  I don’t have to do anything, except try again tomorrow.  The gift of grace has lead to so many other things, joy, peace, and contentment.  I have a church family that I wouldn’t be able to survive without.  It is a true blessing to call them family.  I have a marriage that has been healed and restored.  And I have me.  The true, raw, 100% version of me that God created.  I don’t have to pretend.  I don’t have to put on a mask or be fake.  I get to be real.  And I know no matter what God loves me and accepts me just the way He created me.

Why do people stay in Mormonism even when they don’t believe it?  They stay because they want to belong, and they don’t, the Mormon church does a great job at making you feel like you can’t belong with out them.  Recently, one of the leaders of the LDS asked, “If you leave the church where will you go?”  The answer is simple.  Jesus!! Jesus offers everything you need and He is enough. You don’t have to believe the lie that no one will accept you, you won’t be happy, or that there isn’t a God.

I walked away from Mormonism and I did receive backlash from former friends and family at times.  Walking away has created a strain on family relationships, friendships, and at times made things difficult for my kids.  But I wouldn’t trade any of it for my relationship with Jesus.  A picture may be worth 1,000 words but so is an empty picture frame.  I’m just a small town girl…living in a Mormon world.

galatians-51

 

 

LDS, mormonism

Response to Grace

This a response to a comment I received on my blog.  I heard a lot about this talk by Brad Wilcox lately and thought I would share.  Hope you all enjoy!

Thank you so much for your comment. I really appreciate your feedback. I enjoy being able to discuss and talk about different things. I love hearing other people’s perspectives on things! I hope you will take my response and consider what I have to say. I look forward to hearing from you in the future!

It’s funny you bring up the talk by Brad Wilcox. Last Monday, when I was having dinner with my daughter, her friend had sent her the same talk and had asked her to watch it. We read through it together and discussed the struggles we had with it. We were excited because in the beginning, he hit the nail on the head. It sounded so right!

But before I can go much further I want to first define a few things. In order to make sure we are on the same page we need to make sure our definitions are the same. So, just for clarification purposes I am going to put down some definitions.

First Gift, dictionary.com defines gift as: something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance. Mirriam-Webster.com defines gift as: something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.

The next thing I want to define is earn dictionary.com defines earn as: to gain or get in return for one’s labor or service or to merit as compensation, as for service; deserve. Mirriam-Webster.com defines earn as to receive as return for effort and especially for work done or services rendered.

The next one is sin. Dictionary.com: transgression of divine law or any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle. Mirriam-Webster.com: an offense against religious or moral law or an action that is or is felt to be highly reprehensible. I personally believe that a sin is anything that offends God or that would be considered offensive to God.

And finally let’s define grace. Dictionary.com: a manifestation of favor, especially by a superior Mirriam-Webster.com: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification. As an added definition I spoke with my pastor on Sunday and he was teaching about grace. He was telling me in Hebrew Grace has 2 definitions Hen and hesed. Hen, is grace like a ballerina. To be graceful. Hesed is grace where kindness is shown to the undeserving, unmerited favor. Hen and hesed are the English translation of two Hebrew words. They Can be spelled in English Chen or Chesed also. English doesn’t have the ch sound like in Hebrew so the sound is translated in words like Rachel. The grace that Christ extended to us on the Cross was Hesed: unmerited favor.

So according to those two sources, I think it is fair to say that a gift is something given to someone freely without any payment or repayment. To earn something is to gain or receive compensation or something you have done. A sin is a violation or transgression of a moral law or principle. And according to all of the definitions grace is being shown favor that is undeserved.

So with those things being clarified, I want to address Mr. Wilcox’s example he used in his speech about piano lessons. Mr. Wilcox did such a good job in the beginning at addressing grace. There is nothing we can do to receive grace. Then he stated “Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. How many know what I am talking about? Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.”

I believe that grace is a gift. As I defined above a gift is something given to someone freely without any expectation of anything in return. In his example he said that mom pays for piano lessons and now can expect something but if you expect something in return it is no longer free. You now have to earn “receive compensation for services rendered” the gift that was given. Mr. Wilcox stated that mom can expect the child to practice as repayment but again the defeats the whole purpose of the gift that was given to us so freely.

grace

As my daughter and I discussed this last Monday we talked in-depth about this and we brought up the Thief on the Cross. Christ extend him the Gift of Grace while he was on the Cross. No expectation of him to practice anything. Just like you and I there is no expectation. Once you receive the gift it is yours. You choose what you want to do with the gift but there is no expectation of repayment. You can set that gift on a shelf and never do anything with it. It is still yours, it is still there, and it is still grace. You are still covered by the blood of Christ; you still accept that gift. You can also choose to take that gift and use it as a tool to worship God. Not as a form of repayment but as a way of showing gratitude and love to the One who gave you the gift. God doesn’t expect any repayment.

So, here is interpretation of that analogy from a Christian perspective. Mom gives you the gift of piano lessons, and whether or not you accept them, they are paid in full. The end. It is that simple. You can choose to accept them or not but they are always there. The gift of grace that Christ offers is like the gift of piano lessons. The difference between Mr. Wicox’s analogy and mine is that in his analogy, now that Christ has paid the price for your sin, he has the right to ask for something in return. In my analogy he doesn’t. In my analogy grace is truly a gift. In Mr. Wicox’s it is something you earn because the giver has the right to ask for something in return.

In Christianity you have the right to accept grace or not. It is a gift, given freely to everyone. You don’t have to earn the gift. You don’t have to ask for repentance first or be good enough to be given the gift. It is already there. Already offered to you, and everyone. The gift of grace, unmerited favor. A gift that we don’t deserve. A gift that is lavished on us. Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 2:11, Romans 4:4-5, Romans 6:14, Romans 11:6, Acts 15:11, Galatians 2:21, these are just some Bible references to the free gift of grace without having to earn it.

I think one of the biggest differences from Mormonism to Christianity is the understanding of the atonement and why Christ died for our sins. I never understood the Jewish law, until well after I gave my life to Christ. Our pastor does a 13-week Bible study and I went through it twice before I understood that God gave the Israelite’s 600+ laws to follow. And in order to repent or receive forgiveness from these broken laws they had to offer living sacrifices. There had to be blood spilled for the sins to be covered. That is why Christ was offered as a living sacrifice. He completed the law. His blood covered all the sins that were required to be repented for, covered by a living blood sacrifice. All sins past, present, and future, are done. It is finished because Christ died on the cross.

In Matthew 5:17-48 it talks about sin and that Christ came to fulfill the law. In this passage Christ talks about the importance of being righteous and sinless. However, He is intentional to point out the impossibility of doing everything pleasing in the eyes of God, up to God’s standard. In Mathew 5:27-29 he talks about adultery and that you should not commit adultery, but to even look at a woman and lust after her is to commit adultery in your heart. Have you ever looked at a woman besides your wife or even your wife before you were married and lusted after her? That is to commit adultery in your heart. To live according to the law is impossible. To live a life completely perfect sinless is impossible to do except for the One who came and died so the law could be fulfilled.

I think another big difference is the is when you realize what Christ has done for you. When you truly accept that gift as a Christian, you want to please God, you want to please the one who sacrificed so much so you can live and be forgiven. It isn’t to earn anything. It is gratitude and love. It is acknowledging the lavished grace you have been given, and being grateful knowing you won’t be punished for what you deserve to be punished for. It changes your heart. It has nothing to do with repayment but complete gratitude. Sunday, our pastor taught about the prodigal son. He was given so much by his father. He took his inheritance and squandered all of it. He came home to beg for a place as a servant in his father’s home. His father welcomed him with open arms and gave him more of everything. Lavished grace. He didn’t get what he deserved. He was showed unmerited favor.

It doesn’t matter how much you do, how hard you work, or how good of a person you think you are. You will never be good enough, you can never work hard enough, you can’t earn enough. You can’t “practice” enough to be in the presence of the Lord unless you have accepted that Christ is the only way.

Sorry my response is so long! I hope this gives you some added perspective into where I am coming from. Thank you again for your comment. This is the exact purpose for this blog. To create discussion and dialogue!

And just for fun a skit that shows it doesn’t matter what you do it’s only Jesus that can make you good enough to get into Heaven. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9SJp0T08ZQ

LDS, mormonism

Leap of faith…

This week I need to give a shout out to my amazing kids.  I’m not sure how they turned out so well.  Thank you Zak, Chey, Kassi, and Aspen for letting me include you in my blogs.  And to my amazing sister in Christ, Lisa, you give me the courage to keep going and sharing my story.  Thank you for always being there for me, for encouraging and giving me feedback, you’ve helped me uncover some of myself.

I really struggled this week with coming up with something to blog about. In grow group this week we talked about grace and knowing where your heart is so you can do what God is asking you to do.  I feel like I have kind of covered those topics in my previous blogs. When I sat down to blog nothing was coming together, the topics that came up this week didn’t flow.

I told my husband maybe I should just skip this week. I had to work on Saturday and also spent some of Saturday creating the power-point for church so I didn’t have time to blog yesterday.  He encouraged me that I am doing what God wants me to do by blogging and I need to write something.

So what is on my heart today is my testimony.  The events that happened that led me to Christ.  This is a story I have shared with some.  The details I have shared with few.  I am open to what God wants me to say and do with my story so I am just going to let the words flow and see where they go.

perfectly-imperfect

Brian and I were “sealed” or went through the LDS Temple wedding ceremony 9 months after we were married civilly.  This was a special circumstance the Mormon church allowed because my oldest sister was getting married and would allow us to attend her wedding.  Shortly after we went through the temple we quit going to church.  The Temple wasn’t quite what we expected.  We still attended church on occasion, holidays and special occasions.  I think we basically still believed it all but, it just wasn’t important.

When I gave my life to Christ Brian and I had been married for 6 years.  We had 2 amazing kids, our son Zakary was 4 and daughter Cheyenne was 2.  We were able to put on a good face.  Many people thought we were doing well.  Brian had been working at his job, that quickly became his career, for 4 years.  I was working part-time as a paraprofessional at a local school.  We had moved 10 minutes from our home town and were just living our lives.  Brian was doing his thing and I was doing mine.

Over the years, my depression had worsened.  I was depressed daily.  It was hard to get out of bed.  It was summer so I wasn’t working at the time. Before I went to bed I would turn the TV to the Disney channel so all Zak had to do was turn it on.  He would get up and turn on the TV, and a lot of the time, he would get himself and Cheyenne cereal for breakfast before I would get out of bed.

I had a lot of guilt and shame in my life.  I wasn’t happy.  I still loved Brian a lot, but felt that our relationship was distant.  He worked shift work and there was a lot of time I didn’t see him and we didn’t spend time together.

The internet was fairly new and I spent a lot of time in a chat room.  I had a man I talked to often.  I was able to pretend I was someone different.  He gave me praise and verbal affection that made me feel better, at times, but also added to my shame and guilt.  My cutting also escalated at this time.  I cut a few times per week.  I also would binge and purge because I thought, if I was thinner, I would feel better about myself.

I hated myself, and hated everything about my life.  I didn’t want to live, but didn’t want to live my kids without a mom.  I struggled daily with suicidal thoughts. I would contemplate a plan and think about how I could make it happen.  As a person who assesses suicide risk I now understand how serious my suicidal thoughts were.  I wanted to die, I just wasn’t to the point that I was willing to go through with it yet.

A few weeks before I was at my rock bottom Brian and I had somewhat of a fight.  I don’t know if I would really call it that.  We were talking, which we didn’t do often at that point.  I so wanted to be special to him, his soulmate, and he said he thought he could’ve been happy with anyone.  At that time he obviously wasn’t happy with life either.  We were at a breaking point and considered divorce.

I was so frustrated and angry.  Everyone told me, Brian and I would get a divorce because we got married so young.  But I knew we were meant to be together.  He was my savior.  He was my knight in shining armor.  He was my everything.  If he didn’t love me, if he didn’t want me, then what did I have.

A few days later I was taking a bath and hitting my head against the bathtub hoping I would knock myself out and maybe drown.  While I was in the bathtub, I was creating a plan in my mind of how to end my life.  I was considering shooting myself, we had a gun in the home.  I was thinking of shooting Brian and the kids too. Brian didn’t deserve to live if he didn’t want me, and I didn’t want the kids to not have parents. I was trying to figure out the order of events.  When I got out, I knelt in front of the toilet and stuck my finger down my throat. The whole time thinking of how I would end our lives. This is what I did.  This is how I coped with my life that I felt was so out of control. While I was sitting in front of the toilet between purges, tears started streaming down my face, and I cried out to God and said, “I don’t want to do this any more.”

While I was kneeling in front of the toilet, the phone rang. I thought it might be Brian because it was late and he was at work.  It was an acquaintance.  Someone I had only met a few times.  Her husband worked with Brian.  I didn’t really know her but I answered the phone and talked with her.  She said that God had put me on her heart and she felt she should call me.  For the first time ever, I was honest with her about what I was doing. I told her about the struggles I was having.  I don’t open up to people.  Brian was the only one who knew of my struggles and yet I was pouring my heart out to someone I barely knew.

She was the first person who told me God loved me just the way I am.  That there was no such thing as being good enough for God.  All I had to do was ask Him into my heart.  That was such a foreign concept to me.  And yet, in that moment, it felt so right.  It was so clear and I felt comfort, calmness, for the first time in my life since I could remember, I felt thing were going to be OK. I had hope, a reason to live, a reason to survive.

In that moment I said the sinners prayer.  I don’t believe it is the words that save me, but the belief in my heart that changed, and truly accepted that God was in control and Christ died for me so all I had to do was accept that and live for Him. This friend invited me to church and we’ve never looked back.

After I gave me heart to Christ, my depression lifted, not to say I didn’t have struggles.  I only cut 1 time after that.  I didn’t binge and purge any more.  I was healed.  God came into my life in a very powerful way and healed my life and my marriage.

Brian and I agreed to stay together and work on our marriage.  We both agreed that God had to be the center of our marriage in order for it to be successful.  We found our home church, Journey, 7 years ago and are grateful for our church family.  We love them more than words can express and we have grown so much in our time there.

I would love to say since then life has been unicorns and rainbows.  It hasn’t.  In fact, since then, I think we have faced some pretty big storms.  None of them have been as big as facing divorce, depression, and suicide.  We have 2 more amazing daughters Kassidy and Aspen.  We are blessed beyond measure.

The concept of grace was hard for me to grasp.  I said the sinners prayer every Sunday for a year.  I’m still learning that some of the things I thought were truth, didn’t come from the Bible. I had to learn new ways to cope, and I had to find myself.  But I have realized over the years, the closer I grow with my Lord, the better I know myself.

I am truly grateful to my friend who followed a prompting on her heart.  I will forever be indebted to her.  I don’t know where I would be if God hadn’t stepped in in saved me and my kids that night.  It’s scary to think about.

So in Mormon tradition, I want to bear my testimony.  I know the Bible to be the only true word of God.  I know that Christ died on the cross for my sins and it is only by His grace that I am saved.  I don’t believe in religion.  I believe it is important to have a relationship with Christ.  I believe in the Trinity.  That the Father, His son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are One.  I believe that Jesus Christ came to earth, died on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of the Father.  I believe He will return.  I believe all you have to do for salvation is to accept Christ into your heart.

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I am so grateful for the joy and blessings that come from just having Christ in my heart.  I’m grateful for the chains that were broken, that were keeping me from being able to find happiness and accept myself.  I am grateful that I don’t have to be perfect, and that I am perfect, in my imperfection. I am grateful for, not just overcoming my struggles, but for conquering them.

I share this only to help others.  I know I am not alone.  I know I am not the only person who grew up in Mormonism who struggled with depression or thoughts of suicide.  I write this to reach out, and let you know, there is hope,  hope in Christ, hope for something better.  God loves you just as you are.  He created you and wants you to come just as you are.  There is more to life than struggling with being good enough.  You are enough, right here, right now.   If you are struggling, please contact me.  I am more than willing to talk to you or help you in whatever way I can.

I’m just a small town girl…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwsvqVmFV6Y